The independent voice of cricket

India v England 2024

The changes England could make for the Ranchi Test | IND vs ENG

England bowler Mark Wood is congratulated by James Anderson (l) Ben Foakes and captain Ben Stokes (r) after he had taken the wicket of India batsman Jasprit Bumrah during day two of the 3rd Test Match between India and England at Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium on February 16, 2024 in Rajkot, India.
Ben Gardner by Ben Gardner
@Ben_Wisden 3 minute read

Two defeats in two, including a record shellacking to concede a series lead, is the kind of situation in which it’s standard to wonder what a team could be doing differently. But for England, there is neither the energy or the resources for wholesale resources to be made.

The squad includes several bowling options, but just one reserve batter. And the idea of making changes to the batting unit is more vexed because it is the three least senior members of the top six, in Ben Duckett, Zak Crawley and Ollie Pope, who have performed the best thus far. Each of England’s top three has had one excellent Test, with two centuries and two half-centuries between them. The rest of the line-up has just one fifty, by Ben Stokes in England’s first innings of the series.

Clearly, Stokes is assured of his place, as is Joe Root, at No.4, even if much of this series’ discourse has revolved around his form and shot choice. That leaves only Jonny Bairstow in the top six as an avenue for change, with Dan Lawrence waiting in the wings. The 34-year-old is closing in on 100 Test matches, but is yet to reprise his early Bazball glories after recovering from a leg break. In his defence, two changes of role, from pure batter to wicketkeeper and back again, haven’t helped matters; and while he’s had a middling series with the bat, he had a good Ashes series in front of the stumps, bookended with two scores of 71 and with a memorable unbeaten 99 at Old Trafford. Besides, Brendon McCullum backs his batters.

“We know that a top-quality Jonny Bairstow is as good as anyone in any conditions,” said McCullum after the Rajkot defeat. “So, from our point of view, we’ve got to keep on giving him confidence and block out a lot of the external noise as well and keep him really present and focused on what he’s trying to achieve, and I’m sure Jonny will come good.”

Extended credit can reap rewards, as Crawley, consistent now as it had seemed he might never be, has shown.

One man who has been shunted out arguably undeservedly in the past is Ben Foakes, but again, England won’t, and shouldn’t, do the same here. For one, he has outscored Bairstow this series, even if his ceiling is lower, and he has also shown his extreme value behind the stumps, with a series of superlative takes made to look startlingly simple. The purists are purring, and while England will have a decision to make in the summer, that can be deferred.

That leaves the bowlers, and it’s here that changes are likely. Perhaps only Tom Hartley, now England’s premier spinner, can be fully assured of his place, though Rehan Ahmed should also be safe, an already-cracked pitch as India prepare for a Test without Jasprit Bumrah making a three-seam attack unwise. “There’s a lot of cracks,” Pope told reporters in Ranchi. “It’s very platey, and they’ve just wetted it as well, which generally dries it up. It doesn’t necessarily look like a belting wicket at the moment.”

Apart from those two, any and all combinations feel possible, and the decision will come down as much to fitness as to form, with conditions also in there. Mark Wood was England’s best bowler at Rajkot, but must always be handled carefully. James Anderson, while on the end of an assault towards the end of that game, has been as parsimonious as ever and incisive when offered even a hint of assistance. But he’s also 41 years old and England will be wary about overburdening him too.

Ollie Robinson is a raring-to-go like-for-like and reported to be the frontrunner by those on the ground. It’s also not impossible that both join forces, if England want to wrest back some control from Yashasvi Jaiswal and co. If England want an out-and-out quick and Wood is rested, then Gus Atkinson is there too, but he remains an outsider.

The smart money could be on a return to the three-spinner attack, with Shoaib Bashir coming back in. This could be the most spin-friendly surface of the series, and Ben Stokes’ apparent readiness to bowl lessens the need for a second seamer. It might be asking a lot of Stokes’ new knee, but with two wins from two needed, maybe now is the time to take a risk.

Subscribe to the Wisden Cricket YouTube channel for post-match analysis, player interviews, and much more.

Have Your Say

Become a Wisden member

  • Exclusive offers and competitions
  • Money-can’t-buy experiences
  • Join the Wisden community
  • Sign up for free
Latest magazine

Get the magazine

12 Issues for just £39.99